Navigating the wheat free, gluten free diet

Archive for February, 2011

Yummy and Unique: Chocoflan pleases all

My, what a happy week it’s been! I celebrated my 24th birthday Wednesday with  a completely gluten-free meal from Bonefish Grill that concluded a deliciously decadent GF macadamia nut brownie and a huge dollop of vanilla ice cream, followed by some low-key dancing to Motown hits at my favorite Gainesville gathering place, the Atlantic.

Then, Friday friends and I had a party, where my dear friend Miriam presented me with one of the most amazing things I had ever seen.  It was a flan.  It was a cake. It was a flancake.

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The  cake portion was made from Betty Crocker’s chocolate cake mix, but the rest was carefully and meticulously homemade, a lovely birthday surprise.  Naturally I asked Miriam to share the recipe with me so that its splendor could be shared by all.  It’s essentially making two desserts at the same time, one on top of the other, their individual flavors and textures blending to perfection in your mouth.

Here are Miriam’s instructions in her own words.  You’ll want to use a Bundt pan for this recipe, and have a roasting pan handy for the ensuing water bath.

Preheat oven to 325 (or whatever the back of the cake box recommends)

For the flan mixture, blend the following ingredients together:

1 can condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
1.5 tsp vanilla
1tsp ground cinnamon
4 eggs

To prepare nonstick mold:

Put 2/3 Cup sugar in a small sauce pan, heat and stir until a caramel is achieved (do not burn!).

Pour the caramel in the mold and immediately with wooden spoon make sure the walls of the mold are covered with the caramel, which quickly hardens as it cools down.

Place the mold in a roasting pan (will use for water bath while baking)

To Prepare Chocolate Cake Layer

Prepare one box of gluten free box cake as indicated in the package, and pour into the prepared mold, even out the batter in the mold (it was kind of thick- regular box cake mixes are much more watery). Then, on top of the cake batter pour the flan mixture and cover with foil.


Place roasting pan in the preheated oven, and add hot water to cover at least half of the cake mold. Bake for 40 min and remove foil. Then bake for another 30 min or so until toothpick comes out clean.

Make sure it cools down well before attempting to take it out of the mold.

Miriam, who was born and raised in Mexico, says, “We call it Chocoflan or ‘pastel imposible’  and of course you can make exactly the same steps with regular box cake.   Always use the temperature recommended by the box.”

Happy Birthday to me, indeed.



A Celiac Disease History Lesson

The elder Provosts (my parents) came up to visit this weekend to celebrate my birthday a few days early.  They really are the best parents.  In addition to a free meal and their lovely company, I got a Kindle.  Gluten-free Girl‘s book is already on it, along with about 35 others neatly organized in a list that should last me through grad school and far beyond.

After a glass of wine or two in downtown Gainesville, the elder Provosts and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful Florida weather and  visit a local nature center/living history farm, Morningside Nature Center on E. University Ave.

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As a kind man (dressed like he’d always wanted to work at Colonial Williamsburg but never had the chance) offered my father fresh biscuits and explained how they would have been baked on the old cast-iron stove and  sweetened with cane juice, I wondered what a person like me, a person who couldn’t eat the fresh biscuits, but probably couldn’t afford not to in those days, would go about daily life in the days of yore.  Did they have a name for Celiac Disease before the days of GI docs?

The history of Celiac Disease is oddly fascinating.  According to Dr. Stefano Guandalini of the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center, CD has been affecting people for over 8,000 years!

…A clever Greek physician named Aretaeus of Cappadocia, living in the first century AD, wrote about “The Coeliac Affection.” In fact, he named it “koiliakos” after the Greek word “koelia” (abdomen). His description: “If the stomach be irretentive of the food and if it pass through undigested and crude, and nothing ascends into the body, we call such persons coeliacs”.

Well, that’s kind of a gross description isn’t it?  Still, pretty apt for a Greek physician from, like, 19 centuries ago.  And then no one mentioned it again until the 1800s when a man named Dr. Mathew Baillie brought up the “celiac affection” again and even diagnosed a dietary treatment of it.  He was pretty much ignored though.  Then 75 years later a man name Benjamin Gee gave “the milestone description of this disorder in modern times.”

Like Baillie, Gee sensed that “if the patient can be cured at all, it must be by means of diet.” He added that “the allowance of farinaceous food must be small”, and also described “a child who was fed upon a quart of the best Dutch mussels daily, throve wonderfully, but relapsed when the season for mussels was over; next season he could not be prevailed upon to take them.” Thus he documents the improvement following the introduction of a gluten-free diet, and the relapse after reintroduction of gluten.

What this means is the gluten free diet has been around way longer than I gave it credit for, although it has gone through a few strange incarnations.  In the 1920s, the it-treatment for Celiacs was something called the Banana Diet.

In 1924 Sidney Haas described his successful treatment of eight children whom he had diagnosed with celiac disease. Based on his previous success in treating a case of anorexia with a banana diet, he elected to try to experiment with the same diet in these eight children who were also anorexic. He published ten cases, eight of them treated (“clinically cured”) with the banana diet, whilst the two untreated died…The diet specifically excluded bread, crackers, potatoes and all cereals, and it’s easy to argue that its success was based on the elimination of gluten-containing grains.

The problem was that Haas was convinced it was the removal of carbohydrates that made the diet effective.  While he was being too stubborn to acknowledge other viewpoints, a Dutchman named Dicke had identified that wheat protein, not simply starch, was the culprit.  This discovery would eventually, decades later, lead to the identification of gluten being the true cause of Celiac Disease.

By the 1960s, we already knew that gluten was the triggering agent in CD and that a gluten-free diet was an acceptable treatment.  From there, the discoveries just kept on coming.  Knowing that just makes me even more amazed how far we’ve come in the products offered for those restricted to a gluten-free diet.  What took people so long??




BJ’s Brewhouse is surprisingly gluten free friendly

On Friday I rather reluctantly agreed to attend the going-away party of a secretary from another UF department.  I was only slightly worried about intruding upon the party, the guest of honor of which I had never met before.  What gave me the most pause was the fact that the party was being held at BJ’s Brewhouse.  As you can guess by the name, the place brews its own beers and, at least on the surface, seems like your typical American eatery where they seem to sprinkle gluten onto foods that normally wouldn’t have gluten in them.  See: BJ’s Giant Stuffed Potatoes.

This time, though, I was pleasantly surprised to see that BJ’s had hopped on the gluten free bandwagon since the last time we’d met.

BJ's Gluten Free menu

My only complaint is that, according to BJ’s’ allergen menu, this is pretty much the only thing you can get at BJ’s if you’re looking to eat GF.  However, you can wash the pizza down with a nice, cold Redbridge, as the menu suggests.

So the menu may still be a little limited, but the good news is the pizza is tasty. And you can get it with all the BJ’s toppings except meatballs.  When I ordered it, my waitress asked if it was an allergy issue (easier to say yes than explain the whole autoimmune disorder thing) and told me she’d let the kitchen know.

For $9.95 you get a regular cheese pizza, but for $3 more you can fill it with toppings.  I chose sausage, pineapple and fresh basil.

BJ's GF Pizza

The portion was just as enormous as anything anyone else gets at BJ’s, and I really didn’t feel singled out at all, not by the company I was with or the company I was supporting.


Living Without Magazine discusses the “Celiac Pill”

If you, like me, have settled into the gluten free diet, have learned (or are starting to learn) to navigate its healthy highs and frustrating lows, then an alternative treatment to Celiac Disease might not be at your top list of priorities.  But for some celiacs (and, studies have shown, maybe for all celiacs), a GF diet isn’t good enough.  Luckily, according to the December/January issue of Living Without magazine, there is a hope for supplementary treatment for CD and a full-on cure may not be too far in the future.

celiac pill

Photo from Living Without

Here’s some interesting tidbits of the article (in purple).  To read it in its entirety, subscribe to Living Without here.

“‘There’s growing evidence in the medical literature and in clinical experience that if a repeat endoscopy is performed, many adults on the gluten-free diet have persistent damage to the small intestine,’ reports Alessio Fasano, MD, medical director of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research.

“A 2007 study found that some degree of intestinal damage was observed in approximately 25 percent of children and over 80 percent of adults with celiac disease when follow-up biopsies were performed.”

In the back of my mind, I knew this was probably true, given the risks of cross contamination and the fact that I still feel gluten-sick at least once a month.  Still, it’s disheartening to hear that the only treatment for the condition you have isn’t all that effective.

One of the new drugs the article mentioned is ALV003, being developed by Alvine Pharmaceuticals.  It’s designed to prevent an immune response to gluten.

“’No humans fully digest gluten,’ explains Daniel C. Adelman, MD, senior vice president of development and chief medical officer of Alvine Pharmaceuticals, located in San Carlos, California. ‘When we eat gluten, we digest it down to a protein comprised of about 33 amino acids.’ But that large a protein can be immunogenic—capable of stimulating an immune response in those with celiac disease. ALV003 chops up the gluten protein further than the digestive system does naturally, with the hope of rendering it harmless.

“‘If you can degrade gluten into smaller fragments, fewer than nine amino acids in length, you can destroy its immunogenic potential,’ says Adelman.”

Pretty fascinating stuff.  It should be noted that these drugs are designed to collaborate with a gluten free diet, to prevent if not eliminate the effects of cross contamination.  They are not cures.  However, a cure may be on the horizon.

“Australian researchers just completed the first clinical trial on a peptide-based vaccine known as Nexvax2, which exposes the immune system to very specific, small amounts of gluten fragments (peptides) with the idea that repeated small exposures will help induce the immune system to once again tolerate gluten. It’s a concept not unlike allergy shots.”

“’The long-term ambition of Nexvax2 is to replace the need for the gluten-free diet and to prevent celiac disease,’ says Bob Anderson, PhD, director of Nexpep, the biotechnology company that developed Nexvax2 and is running the clinical trial.”


It is unclear, as of yet, how long it would take for a Celiac’s body to begin tolerating gluten again, but the findings  and animal-based studies do seem promising.  How amazing would it be to be able to order a gourmet sandwich, an artisan pizza, or even a big mac?  Unfortunately, this miracle drug won’t be hitting pharmacies tomorrow.

“’There’s a real possibility that in the next 10 to 15 years, we will be able to offer celiac disease patients an alternate treatment for the gluten-free diet,’ says [Bana] Jabri [MD, PhD, co-director of the University of Chicago Digestive Disease Research Core Center]. “We can even dream today of being able to identify a preventive cure for individuals at high risk of developing celiac disease. This is something we wouldn’t have said even five years ago. There’s been lots of progress.”

But before getting too disheartened over what seems like a long way away, remember how far the gluten free diet has come just in the last few years.  The market is huge and is continuing to grow.  Eating out is easier than ever.  Until the day comes when there is another treatment out there, it is up to no one but us to prevent cross contamination, not take risks, and keep coming up with delicious gluten free foods.


Cute link of the week: Gluten-sniffing dog posted a story over the weekend about Elias, a service dog that can sniff out the tiniest amount of gluten.

If Elias, who “spent weeks in Slovenia undergoing intense gluten-detection training,” catches a whiff of the stuff he tries to grab it away from his owner, a first-year Vet Med student at the University of Missouri.

Adorable! I wish I could teach my cats to do this.  Daisy,  I think, could figure it out.  This one, on the other hand:

Photo by Dennis Dipasquale

You get the idea.

Still, gluten-sniffing dogs can cost up to $10,000 so I think I’m better off trying to train the cats than holding out for one.  My birthday is coming up though. Ha!


A different gluten free lasagna: Chicken Lasagna Alfredo

I’ve been waiting for a year for an occasion to use my DeBole’s gluten free lasagna noodles, but the right potluck never seemed to come.  But last Wednesday (my least busy and most likely day to cook) I just couldn’t wait any longer.  Not wanting to go the traditional route and make a lasagna my non-GF friends could get anywhere, I looked around and dug out a recipe for chicken lasagna Alfredo my mom cut out of some Pampered Chef catalog years ago.  It’s a crowd-pleaser, but it worked just fine as a mid-week meal for 2 or 3.  I used the remaining spinach leaves to make a nice side a salad.

What you’ll need:

10 Gluten Free Lasagna Noodles
1 jar (16 ounces) white Alfredo pasta sauce
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano leaves
3 cups coarsely chopped roasted/cooked chicken
1 can (14 oz.) artichoke hearts
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, pressed
3 cups (12 oz. ) shredded mozzarella cheese
1 pkg. (4oz) crumbled feta cheese
2 cups packed fresh baby spinach (4oz.)


Risotto: Your Gluten free V-Day Meal

Risotto is a labor of love.

Constant stirring over a hot stove for up to an hour can be boring, frustrating (why won’t the rice soften???), and totally worth it.

I usually prefer my risotto with a little white wine (in and around the dish)…

But for Valentine’s Day, red wine risotto just seems right.  There are numerous simple recipes for the classic Italian dish, some that involve tomato paste, others, like Mario Batali’s, that do not.  If you’re really celebrating the special occasion, try this recipe for Truffled red wine risotto with Parmesan broth.  Truffles, or even just Truffle oil, never fails to impress me.

Serve with your favorite protein (with red wine I would go steak, lamb, or even a pork tenderloin,) add some chocolate mousse, and you’ve got yourself a simple, satisfying meal that shows you care.  The best gifts are the gifts you get to enjoy as much as the other person right?


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